Korea and the 2002 FIFA World Cup (How the Seoul Searcher began to care about soccer)

Well, at least it's an improvement over "Be the Reds!"

In a little over 10 days the 2010 FIFA World Cup will begin. I am eagerly anticipating the World Cup. This is a craze that I have gotten into every four years since….

Hey, wait a minute, Seoul Searcher. You’re an American are you not? Americans don’t like football!

Actually football is our most popular sport. Admittedly, soccer is not.

It’s football.

Actually in standard English American English, it’s soccer, because we have our own game called football, which the rest of the world likes to call American Football. That point aside, it’s true, soccer is not ranked very high in the United States. Our four most watched sports are baseball, football, basketball and ice hockey. The reason for this is…

This is a Korea blog. Please talk about Korean football.

Ok ok. You’re the one who asked why I liked soccer in the first place. I’ll answer the question. In 1994, the U.S. hosted the FIFA World Cup. I couldn’t have cared less. At the time, I was in high school and I was disillusioned with professional sports altogether. I think in 1994 one of the only games I watched involved the Korean team. My stateside Korean relatives seemed to be really pumped up for it, but the only thing that I noticed was the U.S. announcers mispronouncing the names Hwang (they said H-way-ng)and Seo (they said SEEYO). 1998 in France was altogether forgettable to me. I don’t even remember watching any of the Korean games. The only U.S. game I watched was an embarrassment vs. Iran. So my interest in the world cup officially started in 2002.

What happened in 2002?

Well, in 2002 I had a lot of Korean friends who were international students in the university I had attended. They had invited me over to see the match between the U.S and Korea. At this point I still had very little interest in soccer, but the U.S. had just put down heavily favored Portugal. Korea had also made easy work of Poland, so the two teams were seeing each other in the 2nd match of the group. Whichever team was to win would be almost guaranteed to advance. The premise for this crucial game, between my father’s homeland and the land I grew up in evoked mixed emotions in me. Should I hope that the U.S., in one of the only sports in which we are the underdog, defeat the country I was struggling to identify with? Should I hope that Korea, my ancestral homeland gain more prominence in international sports at the expense of a team that has relatively few fans at home? It was too hard of a decision.

Clint Mathis scored. (Wow, I still remember his name! This game must have been important to me.) I jumped up for joy along with the other 2 or 3 American citizens in the room. My Korean friends jokingly shouted “No more soju for you, buddy!” I guess then that I had made my decision. In the name of friendly rivalry I would choose the U.S., as there were more than enough Korea supporters in the room.

Much much later in the second half, Ahn Jung Hwan scored. He then ran to the corner of the field and started doing some kind of strange dance. I asked what that was. “Is that some kind of Chicken dance?

“No,” explained a Korean friend of mine, “it’s short track!”

Short track speed skating?!?!?!?!??!?! Ah yes, in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Korean skater Kim Dong Sung was disqualified after finishing first in the 1500 meter race, thus allowing American skater Apolo Ohno to get the gold medal. I suppose I understand why, but it’s quite odd to see Winter Olympics drama to show itself in the world cup. I don’t think star American athletes would have done the same if it had been Ohno who had been disqualified, but I guess that’s what separates large diverse countries from small homogeneous ones.

Another crucial point in the game came when Lee Young Pyo (or was it Lee Eul Yong?) was awarded a penalty kick. Penalty kicks become goals about 80% of the time. Luckily Brad Freidel was able to get the save.

Anyway the score was 1-1 when the game ended. It was a tie. I was hooked! I of course wanted both teams to advance to the second round. The U.S. needed only to beat lowly Poland in the 3rd game to advance. Korea would have to beat Portugal to advance. If the U.S. were to lose, then they would still go to the next round with a Korean win over Portugal. If Korea were to lose, then only a Polish win over the U.S. and superior goal differential would allow them to advance. An American loss and a Korean tie vs. Portugal would have the U.S. eliminated. I didn’t think Poland was very strong, so I thought the U.S. had an easy win here. I was more worried about Korea’s chances to advance.

So what happened?

Well, exactly the opposite of what I thought would happen. The U.S. went down to Poland 2-0 in the first 10 minutes! It looked like the U.S.’s bid to advance would go under with that game unless Korea beat Portugal. I didn’t think that was likely, but since the U.S. game was garbage, the Korea game was what I was watching. This is where I got to know Park Jisung (now captain of the Korean team in 2010) for the first time. His miraculous goal to defeat Portugal sent Korea to the second round along with the US! That meant that both the U.S. and Korea would advance!!!!!

Well what happened with the rest of the 2002 World Cup?

The U.S. defeated arch rival Mexico in the round of 16, then lost to Germany in the quarter final.

What about Korea?

Male spectators in this section of the stadium didn't even know that there was a game going on.

Wow, where do I start? Korea faced powerhouse Italy in the round of 16, winning in dramatic fashion on Ahn Jung Hwan’s golden goal in overtime.

This game was when I truly fell in love with Korean soccer. I mean come on! Italy, a country that was chosen as a possibility to win it all was defeated by KOREA! It was quite early in the U.S. but I jumped up and started screaming and woke up everyone in my house. I was then on the phone with practically every Korean friend I knew congratulating them and making plans to meet for the next game.

Fans jam packed the open area in front of city hall during Korea's matches in the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Korea then went on to play Spain in the quarter final, another team that analysts said had a real shot at the whole thing. Korea won in less dramatic fashion, in penalty kicks, but a win is a win. Korea then faced Germany fresh off their triumph over the U.S. At this point I wanted Korea to get revenge against Germany for knocking out the U.S., but it was not to be. Germany would go on to face eventual champion Brazil in the final. Korea faced Turkey in the 3rd place match and finished the 2002 World Cup in 4th place. Besides the games, it could be said that this even launched the Korean wave. The world cup was instrumental in evoking a strong sense of patriotism in Koreans, and started to give Koreans a more favorable image in the rest of the world. People in Korea still talk about 2002 like it was yesterday. They know exactly how each game turned out and where they were and who they were watching the games with. The whole nation came out to support the team, crowding public places and generally making it a cheerful atmosphere.

From then on, I began to love international soccer. I moved to Japan in 2002 and I saw the Korean team play in Japan 4 or 5 times between 2002 and 2005. I moved to Korea in 2006 and I’ve seen the Korean team play here 4 or 5 times. The worst game I’ve ever been to was probably the one where Korea defeated Taiwan 8-0. This was after going up 4-0 in the first 15 minutes. To this day, Korea has never lost whenever I am watching live. Maybe they ought to fly me to South Africa this year and use me as a lucky charm!

What are your thoughts on the 2010 world cup?

Well, Korea is in a difficult group. Argentina and Nigeria look to be the favorites to advance. Korea and Greece look like they have a very slim chance. Probably the game between Korea and Greece (on the first day of play) will determine which team can keep hope alive, and which team will probably play the final two games of the group for pride.

As far as America’s group? Well a British newspaper put it like this:





See what it spells? EASY! Well, I expect that the U.S. should have little trouble getting into the round of 16.

I want to see a team other than a European or South American one win the World Cup. I’d be overjoyed if Korea or the U.S. could do it, but I’d be elated if even Mexico, Australia, or Nigeria were the winner. I’m tired of Argentina, Brazil, Italy, and Germany.

The chances of the U.S. playing vs Korea again this time are slim. It can happen in a quarterfinal, the final, or the 3rd place game. I’d love to have the mix of emotions again.

What will happen? Who knows?


21 Responses to “Korea and the 2002 FIFA World Cup (How the Seoul Searcher began to care about soccer)”

  1. Even thou I’m not such a big fan of soccer, whenever is time for the Worlcup I get excited, it has to be because it always comes to my mind that Mexico will play an amazing role and I watch the matches even if it’s at 3am in the morning!, 2 weeks ago I went to see the Korean Stand (the one I mentioned @ my blog) and went into a restaurant and they were playing a match between korean and other country (I can’t remember wich one) and I got all excited! some of my relatives gave me a strange look but it was like the very 1st time I was actually playing attention to a Korea game in years and probably got all excited because I read a book about Korean History and of course there was a chapter about Sports and just like you said they mention 2002 and have some pictures of all the people reunited in the streets watching the game (it also reminded me mexico) so this Year Mexico and Korea are my 2 favs and will try to not miss a match 🙂

  2. Yup!, Mexico defeated Italy yesterday (I’m so proud) for obvious reasons everyone thought Italy was going to WIN but no,,mexico did AMAZING 🙂

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Yes, but it’s practice. Let’s see how you guys do against France when it’s for real..

  3. O.o I know
    But i’m trying to be optimistic

  4. I remember cheering Korean team in 2002. Go, Korea 🙂 (also.. go, USA :D)

  5. Go Korea!! In my opinion, we have the best team members ever had. Although this time we have difficulty in Def. I know we will get over!! Let’s go Korea!

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Korea does have the best team ever, but Nigeria and Argentina are better on paper. I really want to see Korea vs. USA, so I am hoping they all do very well.

  6. The World Cup is comming. :0
    Koreans remember last 2002 World Cup. At that time our street cheering event was amazing. Also miracle happened to Korea.
    Be the Reds
    Reds go Korea
    Shouts of Reds , United Korea

  7. I can’t believe it! Italy lost. Sobbing in streets of Naples.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Yes, that one was a bit hard to believe. I had Italy going to the final in my office bracket, so I’m pretty much going to lose now..

  8. Amazing J Says:

    You’re an idiot! How can you make a dumb prediction like that?

  9. OMG!! You Won’t Believe How Racist The World Cup Is!!! –> http://WorldCupRacist.info/

  10. I’m not a specialist of soccer but every time I’m speaking with Korean people about sports…TADA! They always tell me about 2002 World Cup: Korea Vs Italy!! HAHA
    Anyway, I was also tired of seeing always the same teams in the finals.

  11. THE writer of this blog is a motherfucker…koreans are cheater…they are match fixer…they had done the worst thing in world cup history…

    • Match fixer? What proof do you have? I’ll admit that Korea got some lucky calls in the Italy match in 2002, but that’s hardly worthy of being called match fixer.

      • lucky calls? are you nuts? i like see pj sung played.. but not against Italy, how about 2 goals disallowed when S. Korea vs Spain? another lucky calls huh? disgrace!

        • Why are people still bitter about this? Get over it.

          • why can’t you admit that south korea was given enormous help from the match officials in several key matches instead of questioning others’ motives? it’s a disgrace to football and every single korean football fan should be ashamed of his nation, that was a despicable performance, even without the help they got. they are the lowest scum in the world of football, worse than the corruption in south america.

          • I can understand why people might think that they got help from match officials, but I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest that the officials were deliberately calling the game for the home team. That said, we can say that there were a few questionable calls.

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